The Common Good

Dialogue at the Values Voter Summit

Sojomail - October 18, 2007


I am not ready to announce yet - even though it's clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative.

- Stephen Colbert, in a guest column in Sunday's New York Times. Colbert then announced his candidacy for the president of the United States on his Tuesday show. (Source: The New York Times)

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A Different Dialogue for 'Values Voters'

I'm preparing for a dialogue with Richard Land at the FRC Action's Values Voter Summit tomorrow. This has caused me to reflect on how the definition of "moral values" has changed. Evangelical activism to protect God's creation is now publicly visible in a new way, including Christian concern over global warming. A host of other issues are now part of a broadened and deepened evangelical agenda—most connected to poverty, human rights, and social justice. Even American military and foreign policy has begun to come under critique by Christian scholars (including evangelicals), who focus on the ethics of war and the dubious morality of the U.S. response to terrorism. Slowly, even the media is reporting on the widening evangelical concern over human life and dignity.

Consider two recent examples. Last week, Laurie Goodstein wrote about new evangelical leaders in The New York Times and noted that

These new leaders are pushing evangelicals to expand their agenda beyond abortion and homosexuality to include issues like poverty, AIDS, and global warming. Like other Americans, evangelicals tell pollsters they care a great deal about the war in Iraq, health care, immigration, and security. If evangelicals more and more vote like average Americans, it becomes increasingly complex for the candidates to calculate how to win them over.

And Sandi Dolbee commented in The Saramento Bee on the significance for the 2008 election

Three years ago, more than 80 percent of evangelicals who attended church weekly cast their vote for President Bush's reelection, according to polls conducted for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It was the culmination of a bond going back to 1980, when Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

But this year's Pew polls show the Christian right's support for Republicans shrinking to 60 percent. The slide is deeper among other religious voters who supported Bush – down to less than 40 percent among practicing Catholics and 20 percent for other Christians.

"That's really quite a dramatic change," said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron and a senior fellow in religion and politics at the Pew Forum.

Why is this change occurring?

An important dynamic, he said, is that many conservative Christians are increasingly expressing concerns about such things as the war in Iraq, AIDS in Africa, and global warming. "There's pressure to broaden the agenda ... to apply the Gospel to a broader list of questions," Green said.

This broadening and deepening of the evangelical social agenda signals a fundamental sea change in the religious community's relation to politics - a healthy change. Say a prayer that tomorrow will not just be about winning a debate, but will also begin an important dialogue.

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'Into the Wild' in Search of Real Life (by Gareth Higgins)

I saw an "on the road" film this week that blew open my understanding of travel and confirmed my imagination of what life could look like. Into the Wild, Sean Penn's cinematic recreation of the journey taken in the early 1990s by Chris McCandless - a rich young kid - across North America to the frozen wastes of Alaska is, in the first instance, a magnificent film. It relates McCandless' story with near-surgical detail - the extraordinary central performance by Emile Hirsch would be trivialized by awarding him something so cheesy as an Oscar - and it also succeeds in portraying the character as one deserving both our admiration and critique.

A Nobel Prize for an Environmental Evangelist (by Jim Wallis)

Last week, the Nobel committee announced its annual Peace Prize, awarding it jointly to Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is a significant recognition for Gore, who has been transformed from a presidential candidate who lost (even though he won) into an environmental evangelist who has changed public opinion on the threat of global warming. His response to the award was that he will use it to continue his work to increase awareness of "a true planetary emergency" and press the world's nations to combat its threats.

Seeking Justice from Hollywood to Bollywood (by Bob Massey)

So what happens when a bunch of overprivileged Hollywood folks (actors, screenwriters, a grad student, a cameraman, an IT nerd with lots of tattoos, a nurse, a full-time mom, and a purveyor of homeopathic remedies) trek through India to meet with people fighting slavery, poverty, and oppression? God only knows.

Why I Work for Immigration Reform (by Patty Kupfer)

When I tell people that I work on immigration reform, they usually laugh or say, "way to pick an easy topic." Everyday it feels like there is more fear, more hate. Raids are picking up in Nevada, California, and New York. A number of senators who supported comprehensive reform only a few months ago have jumped on the bandwagon with their enforcement-only colleagues. Even a recent C-SPAN radio caller's biggest concern about the children's healthcare plan was: "Those illegal aliens better not have access to S-CHIP money." It saddens and exhausts me. I ask myself, "Why do I keep working for a cause that is so controversial, and often so negative?"

Audio: Jim Wallis on "Value Voters" on The Tavis Smiley Show

Last week Jim was on The Tavis Smiley Show and talked about how the changing political landscape will affect the upcoming '08 election. Jim and Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state, debated and discussed both the impact of "value voters" on the election and what those values entail. + Download mp3 audio of the entire broadcast

God's Custodians (by Jim Wallis)

Last week, I wrote about U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon's speech to a dinner hosted by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Micah Challenge. While the main part of his speech was on the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals, he closed by linking that to "another moral imperative" – acting to stop global warming. On this Blog Action Day for the environment, the words of the Secretary General are worth emphasizing.

Slowing the Electric Slide Toward Global Warming (by Ginny Vroblesky)

Part of the solution is cleaning up power plant emissions; part may be in finding new fuels. But the part that I have the most control over, and responsibility for, is my own use of energy. Some suggest changing light bulbs, others using more energy efficient appliances, letting the sun and wind dry clothes outside, turning off computers and other equipment that have standby modes, and using electricity to keep tiny bulbs burning. It is, in fact, very empowering to understand that by a flick of a switch I can make a statement about how I care for the mountains of West Virginia. It may not be much of one, not sufficient for the need, but at least it is immediate and accessible to me, my friends, and everyone else as well.

Holy Spirit Sustainability (by Brian McLaren)

Perhaps we can be forgiven for developing this unsustainable lifestyle because we didn't know what we were doing. But now, as the information becomes available - and increasingly incontrovertible - we have a new responsbility and opportunity. And here is my firm belief: whatever the pleasures that come from living an unsustainable, and therefore unwise, life, the pleasures of living a wise and sustainable life will be far greater.

What is the 'Right Stuff'? (by Gareth Higgins)

If you want to find out what it means to be a hero, you could do worse than seeing two current documentaries: In the Shadow of the Moon and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Shadow consists of documentary footage of the space race, intercut with new interviews of most of the men who have been to the moon and back. Kong follows another race, and one of the strangest competitions of our time – the battle to be the world Donkey Kong video game champion. At first glance, these films may seem to have little in common – but they both reflect different dimensions of the same theme: that of American exceptionalism.

Ann Coulter is to Christianity as ... (by Becky Garrison)

Here's an intriguing SAT-style question. Ann Coulter is to Christianity as:

(A) Dr. James Dobson is to Sponge Bob Square Pants
(B) The new thought movement is to common sense
(C) Marilyn Manson is to Satanism
(D) Dick Cheney is to gun control
(E) Richard Dawkins is to reasoned debate

Dinner with the Antichrist (by Jim Wallis)

The topics that brought 250 evangelical leaders together from around the U.S. and world were indeed global poverty and the urgent issue of climate change. Both issues are now firmly on the agenda of the evangelical mainstream, as last night's impressive list of leaders demonstrated. The speaker for the evening was none other than Ban-Ki Moon, the new secretary general of the United Nations, which is driving the MDG initiative. Growing up in the evangelical world, I remember the great debate about who was the real "Antichrist" as described in biblical prophecy--it was either the pope or the United Nations.

A Change of Mind on Tutu (by Allison Johnson)

Two days after my blog post about the University of St. Thomas' controversial decision to bar Archbishop Desmond Tutu from a speaking engagement on campus, a letter was sent to students, faculty, and staff on behalf of university president Father Dennis Dease. Not only did Dease reverse the decision, but he also personally and publicly apologized.


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